How wildfire is detected

Man looks out airplane window to detect wildfires

Detecting wildfires early is critical for success. The BC Wildfire Service detects wildfires using a variety of methods.

General public reports

The biggest asset for detecting new fires in B.C. is YOU! Approximately 40% of wildfires in B.C. are reported by the general public.  

If you see a wildfire, abandoned campfire or dangerous activity that could cause a wildfire, call 1-800-663-5555 or *5555 on a cell phone.  

Your call will be answered by an operator at the BC Wildfire Service. They will ask you questions about the following details to gather more information:

  • Location: Where is the fire? How far up the hillside? Closest intersection?
  • Size: Metres? Hectares? Size of a house? Size of a football field?
  • Rate of spread: How quickly is the fire spreading?
  • Fuel: What is burning? Grass, bushes, trees?
  • Smoke/flames: What colour is the smoke? Are flames visible?
  • Threat: Are there any people or buildings at risk?
  • Action: Is anyone fighting the fire?
  • Campfires: If reporting a campfire, can you tell if it is wood burning or is it a propane campfire?

Once complete, the report will be sent directly to the regional fire centre. 

Detection by land users

B.C. has over 94 million hectares of forests and wildland. With such a large land base, the BC Wildfire Service relies on people who use and enjoy the land to report new wildfires. Each season, wildfires are detected by people: 

  • Participating in traditional forest practices
  • Industrial forest operations
  • Fishing
  • Hunting
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Using off-road vehicles
  • General wilderness recreation

While people using wildland areas may pose a small risk of causing wildfires, the vast majority of land users act responsibly and observe guidelines. Land users are a huge asset for detecting new wildfires early. This helps the BC Wildfire Service respond successfully. 

Other detection methods

Some regions of the province are less populated. This means that fires may not be detected immediately by the general public. 

We detect fires in more remote areas using methods such as: 

  • Air patrols (both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters) 
  • Fire Warden ground patrols 
  • Infrared technology  
  • Computer technology and predictive software 
  • Lookout towers